Hellllooo 2019! I could not be more excited to welcome a new season on the farm because 2018 proved to be the most challenging and grueling season yet. Here in Western North Carolina, we broke the record for most rainfall ever received in recorded history. The average rainfall for Asheville is usually between 43-56 inches and we received (like its a gift - ha!) over 100 inches. That is a LOT of rain. Way too much rain. Even though 2019 is off to a rainy start, there is something about a new year that feels like we get to wipe the slate clean… here’s hoping for a little more sunshine and a lot less rain.
For the past 10 years or so, I have chosen a word to symbolize what I hope to focus on and embody in the coming year. The word actually comes to me as I think ahead about what I hope to manifest and a sort of touchstone for encouragement. Last year my word was TENACITY and I certainly learned what it truly means to persevere. Between the rain, moving the farm, infrastructure challenges and more, it took tenacity and determination not to call it quits. But I already know that 2019 is going to be so different and I’m encouraged by all the lessons learned and how we can improve the business and our farming operation. So in 2019, my word is RESTORATION. While there are lots of definitions of this word, the definition taped to my desk is, “The act of restoring to an unimpaired or improved condition; Something that is restored.”
Winter on the farm follows a slower, less frantic pace than the rest of the year. I have a massive list of projects to complete before the pace picks up again in March, but there are no flowers to be picked or buckets to be washed. Nothing is urgent and its a feeling that I relish. One of the top priorities in winter is making sure my crop plans are in place, seeds have been ordered and supplies are fully stocked. While I can order most supplies year round, I like to order things like irrigation supplies and plant stakes now so that everything is ready to go once the season is in full swing. Ordering seeds early is important to ensure that I get the varieties and quantities needed.
It took days and hours of research to figure out the most cost effective and best sources for seeds and supplies. My favorite sources are based on shipping to Asheville, NC and I’d strongly recommend doing research of your own based on your region. But if you are just starting out, this list should give you a good head start. Here are my favorite sources for seeds and supplies that I can’t live without:
Because I grow most flowers and foliage in large quantities, being able to buy in bulk is necessary for our farm. I recommend creating a spreadsheet with what varieties you plan to grow, how many seeds you plan to sow for each variety (plus some extra) and how often you plan to sow it. This will help you to estimate the number of seeds to order. If you have a smaller cutting garden, Floret and Renee’s Garden are other favorites for smaller quantities of seed.
I order about half of all the flowers that we grow from plugs (tiny plants ready to transplant) because I just don’t have a greenhouse big enough or the human-power needed to start everything from seed. You will need to set up an account with both of these brokers in order to order, as they both serve professional growers only. I recommend ordering many months in advance because most large greenhouses need plenty of time to order seed and to get your order in the growing schedule. Flowers like lisianthus, for example, have an extremely long lead time because they’re so slow growing. There is an art to plug ordering so its best to start small and make sure that you have a system that works for you before you spend big bucks on lots of plugs.
IRRIGATION SUPPLIES + ROW COVERS: Rain-Flo Irrigation
Rain-Flo has the most helpful customer service when it comes to irrigation, hands down. When I was just staring out with this farm, I called them up and described my land, what I was growing, my soil type and they were able to help me create an irrigation package that was perfectly suited for my farm’s needs. They also have great prices on row covers, greenhouse plastic and more. Because you pay for freight from PA, its worth it to think through everything you may need for each season on the farm and order it all together at once.
LANDSCAPE FABRIC, ORGANIC FERTILIZER + MORE: Griffin Greenhouse Supply
I price shopped landscape fabric to death before finally learning about Griffin from my Dad. Griffin has everything from greenhouse kits, to bags of organic fertilizer, to row cover hoops and so much more. I recommend calling to place your order because they offer price breaks based on quantity. For example, when I ordered my first batch of landscape fabric the price per roll was significantly cheaper than the price in the catalog because I bought 10 rolls at once. Even though that first bill was scary, the savings were worth ordering it all at once. Griffin has distribution centers in several locations, so ask your representative if they offer truck delivery to your area. A Griffin truck drives from Knoxville to Asheville each Tuesday and its only a $30 delivery fee - much more affordable than standard shipping for bulky, heavy items.
BUCKETS + BOUQUET SLEEVES: A-Roo
A-Roo is another company where its worth it to order everything at once. It feels really scary to spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars when you’re just starting out, but the savings on shipping are well worth the initial investment. I recommend asking your sales rep for samples of buckets and floral sleeves to determine what sizes will work best for you. Keep in mind your market or sales outlet when ordering sleeves because there are so many options. We sell our bouquets and bunches to grocery stores and have found that the paper sleeves just don’t hold up in the water - the bottom gets too soggy. Also the customers also can’t see the beautiful colors and textures as clearly as in a clear plastic sleeve. I was reluctant to switch to clear plastic sleeves because I felt that the paper better suited our brand, but the bottom line is that I want to keep my grocery accounts happy and help the customers have the best experience with our flowers. We have 2 sizes of sleeves and each sleeve gets one of our beautiful stickers and a packet of floral food.
FLOWER FOOD PACKETS + HOLDING SOLUTION: Chrysal
Chrysal and Floralife are the two big flower food companies. I won’t get into the specifics of why flower food works, but it does! I use the Chrysal #2 Transport and Display solution for almost everything because I’m harvesting at the proper stage and then getting my flowers to the florist, grocery store or designer within 24 hours. Each grocery store bouquet get a packet of Chrysal Clear included.
PLANT STAKES, GARDEN MARKERS, HOOP HOUSES + MORE: FarmTek
I could easily blow my entire supply budget on the FarmTek website. They literally have everything! But every year I stock up on wooden garden stakes for the field, plastic tags for the greenhouse and garden markers for writing on the stakes (trust me, they work much better than a sharpie). I have also sourced my hoop houses from their GrowSpan division and custom ordered their shade cloth.
I source all my cover crop seed from our local Feed and Seed. The shipping alone on huge bags of cover crop would break the bank! I highly recommend searching for your local feed and seed and even if you have to drive out of your way a few times a year, its worth it.
We have a few organic gardening shops locally where I buy ladybugs for aphid infestations and smaller quantities of amendments like rock phosphate and kelp for my compost tea. I source worm castings from a local farm, which is the base of my compost tea recipe.
We are lucky enough to have an incredible agriculture supply store just a few minutes away. They are my first stop for everything from japanese beetle traps, drip tape when I run out mid-season, t-posts, straw and slug bait. While I always price shop the bigger ticket items elsewhere, these local folks carry a great assortment of OMRI listed products (since even though we aren’t certified organic, we adhere to organic standards) and all the other random things that I need throughout the year.
I buy the Tenax hortnova netting used to support flowers from Home Depot.
Its taken me years of research to find a good system for ordering farm supplies. I hope that you find this list helpful or at least a good starting place. For me and many other farmers, winter is the time to make lists, gather supplies and finalize crop plans for the coming season - along with catching up on socializing with friends and reading books. The next farming season will be here before we know it and I for one cannot wait!